Lights open season in North Dakota
After 27 years at Dickinson State, head coach Hank Biesiot isn't going to suddenly change his offensive philosophy. No matter how tough the Montana State-Northern defense is.
Biesiot and the Blue Hawks will welcome the Lights into Whitney Stadium in Dickinson, ND on Saturday with a familiar greeting of ground control, run-first offense.
However, that philosophy wasn't so successful last year against the swarming Lights defense. Northern dominated the line of scrimmage in last year's 35-33 victory in Havre, holding the Blue Hawks to a total of 78 yards rushing in the game. DSU, which averaged 230 yards rushing a game last season, relied on the gutty play of All-American quarterback Nick Walker to keep last year's game close. Walker threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
"It's still what we want to do," Biesiot said of the run oriented offense. "We're going to still run the ball first. It's all we know."
The Light defensive line, anchored by All-American defensive end Kino Detrick and tackles Bomont Somerfeld and Steve Spangler, is perhaps the finest in the Frontier Conference. That unit gave opposing coaches headaches all last season and Biesiot is no different. While he hasn't come up with any magic formation or play that will be effective, he does have some ideas.
"Besides praying," Biesiot said. " We are going to try to simplify some things and run very basic plays. With a team with that much talent, getting too fancy or cute will only hurt you more than help you."
The Light defense aren't the people causing coaching headaches. Walker's performance last year caused Lights head coach Walt Currie to rub his temples more than once. After transferring to DSU from the University of Montana, Walker threw for 2006 yards and 24 touchdowns last season while only throwing four interceptions. He is simply a playmaker. And he will be the focus of the MSU-Northern defensive game plan.
"Walker is the key to everything defensively," Currie said. "He'll compete for the four full quarters. We saw it last year. We need to force him to throw the ball a little quicker than he'd like to."
However, applying pressure on Walker has a catch because he isn't afraid to leave the pocket and he tends to be at his best improvising. Several of his biggest plays in last year's game came after he was flushed out of the pocket.
"He's dangerous whenever he has the ball," Detrick said. "We just have to try and keep him contained and keep pressure on him. The linebackers and secondary hopefully can cover long enough for us to get to him."
Besides Walker, DSU has its leading rusher Mike Luther (839 yards) returning and it's entire receiving corp led by Adam Eckert, Hugo Anderson and Satrone Boyd returns. The key losses for the Blue Hawks came on the offensive line where they lost a pair of all conference performers. Biesiot admitted he was concerned with the inexperience up front especially because he may have to start a true freshman.
Currie said possibly the best defense against Walker and company maybe just keeping them off the field. For that to happen, Northern's offense must establish some consistency as well as find a few playmakers of their own.
The Lights will be without leading rusher Travis Crawford, who is still recovering from a hairline fracture in his leg and must find a replacement for three time All-American receiver Andy Smith.
"Somebody has to step up and make some plays," Currie said. "I think Tanner Woodward's capable of making plays and our quarterback (Brandon) Kerkes is going to have to so, as well."
Kerkes is beginning his second season as the Lights quarterback after switching from reciever. He leads a unit that returns nearly every starter, except Smith from last years squad including all-conference offensive linemen Martin Leibrand, Colter Epler and Acey Koshatka. Much like Biesiot, don't expect Currie to throw any major changes offensively.
"We'll be doing the same stuff we did last year," Currie said. "Only, I hope we do it a little better."
The Lights will face a Blue Hawk defense that returns seven starters including defensive ends Coly Rush and Dominic Tognarelli who combined for 80 tackles, 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss. DSU returns solid players at linebacker in Mike Staudinger and
Last year's game was very physical and this year should be no different. In fact, Currie thinks it might be even more intense because of last year's results.
"I think they're going to be really fired up," Currie said. "I don't think last year's game sat very well with them. I think they're pointing pretty hard toward this game."
Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m. (MST) and can be heard on KPQX FM 92.5.